Profile: Keith Hafner Decided Decades Ago To Use Martial Arts To Help People Better Themselves – And The Results Are In

James Rose is like most parents – he wants the best for his kids and wants to do everything he can to help them be successful, for not only today but tomorrow as well.

Rose, of Ypsilanti, decided to introduce his two boys to martial arts and enrolled them in the popular Keith Hafner’s Karate school in downtown Ann Arbor. He says that in just a short time the classes have not only helped teach strength and discipline but also kick-started confidence in his sons.

“We were looking for activities for Jack when he was younger and tried things like soccer but he gravitated more to individual sports and when we found karate he loved it,” said Rose. “As a parent I like how they teach discipline and respect but they aren’t harsh about it. They teach good values along with the martial arts skills.”

Rose, who played hockey growing up and never even tried martial arts as a youngster, says his 14-year-old son Jack has gone from quiet and shy to more open and outgoing.

“He’s now very comfortable speaking in front of crowds,” said Rose, while Jack and Ben, 9, were participating in their Saturday morning class at KHK. “Whether it’s one on one or a small group or his whole class, he’s not afraid to talk and I think that’s great.”

And that’s the kind of result that puts a smile on the face of owner and founder Keith Hafner – maybe that’s why Hafner is always smiling.

“I’m convinced that martial arts should be taught in an atmosphere of friendship and safety,” he says. “Real self-defense is achieved by the development of a student’s self-esteem. It should promote self-confidence, self-discipline and positive thinking.”

Hafner, now a Martial Art Grand Master, became a Tae Kwon Do teacher shortly after graduating college. Within a year, the owner of the business, Grand Master Sell, wanted to sell the business and move to Florida. Hafner took a chance and purchased the “The Academy” despite very little business background.

While he quickly learned the business side, it was the overall approach of The Academy that just didn’t seem to fit in with how he envisioned what a martial arts teaching school should be in this always changing society.

He got his answer in his son’s eyes and through his son’s tears.

“At that time there was quite an emphasis placed on ‘hard core’ training and lots of people were getting hurt,” he said. “The lessons were very hard and many students would eventually quit. I was watching a class being taught by one of my assistant instructors and my sons were in the class. My 5-year-old son became frightened and started to cry. I ran out and got my son out of the class.”

With a sad heart, Hafner dried his son’s eyes and the experience opened his eyes up to what his business should become. And it was then that Hafner started to develop a positive, encouraging and powerful teaching system.

“I just hated what the program was back then when I first took over,” he said. “My kids were in the program and they were being taught things that were different than the kinds of values we were teaching at home.

“I decided then that I wanted to teach the values I thought were important as part of what we were doing with martial arts.”

It wasn’t an easy change considering what a culture-based art form martial arts has always been. It took a long time to get to where Hafner wanted the program to be but it has clearly arrived to where he’s smiling with pride.

“Everyone always accepted that the martial arts was a method of fighting and off of that came things such as courage, confidence, respect and discipline,” he said.

“But what we did was flip that model and learn self-defense but do that to develop what’s really important which is courage, confidence and the focus.

“And to this day that’s what defines us and distinguishes us from everyone else.”


Keith Hafner’s Karate

The feedback from parents over the years, such as James Rose, have been extremely positive. Hafner constantly hears how his program has “helped my child become all he or she can be,” or “helped my child believe in themselves,” or “taught my child to become strong, positive and successful.”

It not only leaves Hafner smiling but is confirmation that what he is doing is working and making a difference in today and tomorrow.

“We seem to attract different people than other schools,” he says. “Ours isn’t a program for a kid who just wants to do karate. A parent comes here because they hear from another parent how our program helped teach their kid how to be brave and how to manage stressful situations and how to have confidence.”

Hafner’s interest in martial arts began at an early age.

“I got into this in the 1970s like most kids do,” he said. “I was in high school and my friends were doing it so I tried. I just stuck with it. Back then it was a completely different climate for martial arts. I went to a hard-core combat school and that’s what it was back then. It was all about fighting.”

In 1974, The Academy moved from Ypsilanti to Main Street in Ann Arbor. In just a short time after Hafner took over, the business changed names and changed philosophy. It also changed location when it moved to the current spot on Main Street in 1989.

“This block is the only place I’ve ever worked,” Hafner says – with a big smile.
Speaking of smiling, Hafner thinks of his business as a family and is thrilled that his sons Ian and Jason have joined him in helping lead boys and girls and men and women in leading better lives. He has no plans of retiring or moving to Florida.

“I get so energized every day when I come here,” he said. “I just love coming here. We are part of people’s hopes and dreams and that’s exciting and rewarding. This is a very upbeat place where we celebrate victories and celebrates successes.

“And I get to work with my sons. What a dream come true.”

And he’s sharing the dream. One of the top ranked schools out of the approximately 1,600 in the country, Keith Hafner’s Karate has been visited by hundreds of martial arts school owners. Black belt teachers have traveled from all over the United States to study the Keith Hafner’s Karate teaching system.

In his book, “How to Build a Rock Solid Kid,” Hafner breaks down the ways to help strengthen the bodies and minds of kids helping them to not only succeed but reach their full potential.

“Never forget, our kids are our greatest legacy,” Hafner says. “Sure, we can enjoy great success in other areas of our lives. But we cannot find any to match that of seeing our own children succeed. Remember, the clock is running. We only have a few short years to prepare our kids to face not only the world but also themselves.”

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